Crisis & opportunity

Print edition : December 18, 2009

The Rally of Britain in the Myherin stage, in October 2009. A study sponsored by the government of the United Kingdom says that over 40 per cent of emissions of carbon dioxide arise directly from heating, using electricity in homes and driving vehicles.-STEFAN WERMUTH/REUTERS

THE multilateral negotiation at Copenhagen will determine a shared vision for long-term cooperation and global goal. This should be seen as an opportunity to take the leadership in these negotiations by laying out a framework that focusses on activities that cause emissions, rather than on national emissions, in order to secure real reductions.

The strategic issue for us is to shape the nature and scope of actions that will be taken to ensure availability of carbon space for sustained economic growth beyond 2050. It is no longer enough to state that our per capita emissions will never exceed the average per capita emissions of developed countries. We have also to ensure emissions reduction vacating of carbon space by developed countries.

Developed countries continue to expand their share of the carbon space in violation of international law. Their emissions have increased by over 10 per cent in the period 1990-2007 despite their commitment under the Convention on Climate Change to stabilise emissions at 1990 levels. And worse, they are now seeking the demise of the Kyoto Protocol in order to avoid internationally mandated and legally binding reduction commitments in the future.

However, these countries, as well as many people in India, consider the key issue for global sustainability to be the extent of responsibility that developing countries accept now and in the future, ignoring the fact that under the Convention, alleviation of poverty has been recognised as the overriding priority of developing countries. They say this because in the ongoing negotiations, for the first time since 1992, actions of developing countries are on the agenda.

Developed countries are using this opportunity to obtain a political agreement by which available, rather than total, carbon space would be shared, thereby increasing current inequities. In other words, the global goal is sought to be expressed in terms of carbon management, rather than in terms of sustainable development.

They argue that reducing global emissions requires multilateral cooperation to make it cost-effective, based around establishing a price for carbon by developing a global carbon market and by the removal of subsidies and reliance on market-based instruments to broaden participation. This would mean that state-led actions for meeting incremental costs and easing restrictions relating to intellectual property rights for technology transfer to developing countries, provided under the Convention, would at best have a limited role in the future. The burden of meeting the challenge of climate change would effectively shift to developing countries.

They also want to meet a major share of their targets through offsets in developing countries by taking up cheaper options there. The implication is that commitments later by developing countries would be more expensive and would also lead to continued occupation of the atmospheric space by developed countries. Agreeing to this allocation principle would mean giving up our entitlement to equal per capita emissions rights.

We are also being told that while there would be no targets for us, there should be no problem in submitting our National Action Plan on Climate Change for international review. Comparisons with similar provisions in the World Trade Organisation and the International Monetary Fund miss the point because there are no agreed international standards under the Climate Convention against which the review would be conducted. It would lead to a situation where carbon management, and not alleviation of poverty, would become our overriding national priority and, through the as yet undefined reviews, in effect, we would be taking on internationally mandated emissions reduction targets through the back door even when developed countries reject such a commitment.

This new situation requires a strategic response that is very different to the stand we have been taking over the past 15 years in these negotiations, of just saying no. Agenda-setting matters in a multilateral negotiation.

Despite scientific evidence that climate change is really a problem of the ecological burden of per capita consumption patterns, the issue continues to be framed in terms of assessments of damage and the attendant emissions targets and timetables that pit old against new emitters. Research trends on how to meet global challenges now focus on societal dynamics as both the root of environmental problems and the potential solution to them. Environmental problems are no longer defined as discrete problems but are increasingly being understood as symptoms of a particular development path. With the major economies being increasingly driven by the services sector and not just by industrialisation, global environmental change is being driven by consumption patterns, which is really the individual citizen.

The International Energy Agency points out that in industrialised countries, on the consumer side of the economy, technological and lifestyle changes combined with higher incomes have significantly altered energy use patterns since the Convention on Climate Change was negotiated in 1992, with over two-thirds of carbon dioxide emissions now coming from the services, households and transport sectors, emphasising that activities of citizens must be the focus of global climate policy.

In industrialised countries, energy use in manufacturing has remained unchanged in the period 1990-2004. In this period in developed countries, energy consumption increased by 50 per cent in the services sector, by 35 per cent in households, and by 25 per cent in transportation, and as a result final energy use and emissions of carbon dioxide increased by 14 per cent.

According to a study sponsored by the government of the United Kingdom, over 40 per cent of emissions of carbon dioxide arise directly from the decisions of citizens for example, from heating and using electricity in homes and from driving vehicles. The government-funded Carbon Trust reports that leisure and recreation account for most of the current emissions for the average British citizen, of which half is from transportation. Improvements in vehicle and engine technology have been offset by consumer preferences for larger and heavier vehicles.

In developing countries, on the other hand, transportation accounts for only one-fifth of the total energy use. As energy use per capita in developing countries is just one-fifth of developed country levels, this situation is going to change very rapidly. Developing countries can be expected to follow a path similar to the one followed by developed countries the global business as usual as increasing incomes lead to urbanisation and personal mobility.

The global dialogue provides an opportunity to identify sectors and activities where energy efficiency can support both the environment and economic growth worldwide. McKinsey research shows that the growth of worldwide energy demand can be cut by half or more over the next 15 years without reducing the benefits that energys end-users enjoy and while supporting economic growth by focussing on demand-side management. Clearly, the policy priority for us will be energy efficiency and not decarbonising energy.

This analysis suggests that all countries need to modify consumption patterns and follow a qualitatively different economic growth path. Our National Action Plan on Climate Change also stresses demand-side management. International comparison of the effects of the measures adopted by all countries should also be based on the driving forces. As the citizen is the driver of change, such indicators are best based on per-capita criteria. Germanys Chancellor Angela Merkel has agreed with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the adoption of a global standard of two tonnes of carbon dioxide per capita as the basis for international cooperation on climate change, and comparability of efforts. We should push for global climate policy in the medium term to be based on demand side management worldwide.

At the climate change negotiations in Bali in December 2007, developing countries agreed to take mitigation actions in the context of sustainable development. This qualification recognises the distinction between production and consumption patterns with respect to emissions reduction. Reductions of emissions in the production sectors industry, electricity generation and agriculture are dependent on the availability of new technology to decarbonise energy.

Copenhagen should focus on consumption and not production patterns, with the per capita emissions of developed countries from the residential and transport sectors which are expected to account for 50 per cent of global emissions by 2050 being reduced to below the world average as a first step, followed by emissions reductions on a per capita basis in all countries. It will be difficult for developing countries to seek sacrifices from their citizens as long as developed countries maintain their (wasteful) lifestyles.

A shared global vision of countries at different levels of development per capita GDP as well as emissions must have environmentally sustainable growth as the global goal.

At Copenhagen, global leaders should agree that patterns of resource use will be common for all countries by the year 2030, as new innovative technologies to reduce emissions in the production sectors will take that long to be available commercially. It is only in such a framework that global emissions can be halved by 2050.

Mukul Sanwal has worked at the policy level in the Government of India and in the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat. He is currently with South Centre, Geneva. These are his personal views.

A letter from the Editor


Dear reader,

The COVID-19-induced lockdown and the absolute necessity for human beings to maintain a physical distance from one another in order to contain the pandemic has changed our lives in unimaginable ways. The print medium all over the world is no exception.

As the distribution of printed copies is unlikely to resume any time soon, Frontline will come to you only through the digital platform until the return of normality. The resources needed to keep up the good work that Frontline has been doing for the past 35 years and more are immense. It is a long journey indeed. Readers who have been part of this journey are our source of strength.

Subscribing to the online edition, I am confident, will make it mutually beneficial.

Sincerely,

R. Vijaya Sankar

Editor, Frontline

Support Quality Journalism
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor